Living with anxiety can be exhausting, frustrating, and painful. Frequent anxiety symptoms may be robbing you of sleep, joy, and/or confidence. However, there is much you can learn and benefit from when it comes to understanding anxiety. In fact, anxiety works to your advantage in some significant ways. Identifying anxiety and exploring how you relate to it may help you uncover some of your most significant strengths and useful skills.
Here are seven ways anxiety can actually be a good thing:
1. Anxiety may make you smarter.
A person who tends to be anxious may also naturally be highly intelligent. Anxious people can be incredibly good researchers, critical thinkers, and analyzers. In addition to naturally tending toward higher-level intellectual processing, anxiety can also teach you to be smarter as you go through a process of learning more about it. Building a better understanding of your anxiety can help you learn to explore options consciously and problem solve calmly. That skill improves both your mental and emotional intelligence.
2. Anxiety is rooted in your need to protect yourself.
Fear is designed to keep you safe from danger. Anxiety is an adaptation of that vital and fundamental fear response. Sometimes anxiety will tell you that the worst is true (perhaps getting you to believe that everyone dislikes you or that someone is determined to harm you). However, paying attention to that uneasy feeling can help you stay connected to sense of self-preservation.
You can think of anxiety as an annoying friend with good intentions. This may help you learn when to take back the control to stop anxiety from dictating many of your thoughts and actions. You may start to notice your anxiety response sooner, allowing you to make conscious decisions about whether there is danger and how to best take care of yourself.
3. Anxiety directs to you whatever needs your attention.
It can be healthy to temporarily distract yourself from anxiety to gain perspective, but if a thought or situation causes anxiety repeatedly, your mind and body are likely trying to tell you there is something needing to be addressed. It may also give you a sense of what you truly care about and want to take action on, even if it may be difficult to do so. Anxiety can direct you to see that something about a situation is too important to ignore. A therapist can help you learn how to give a situation attention without it needing to be anxious attention.
4. Anxiety directs you to finding your deepest core values.
Noticing what you fear is a gateway to discovering what you truly value. We feel a form of anxiety when we see someone being bullied or harmed. We feel anxiety when a person says something that seems dishonest. This response doesn’t have to mean we are predicting the worst possible outcome; it is a vital radar to show us what is right and wrong for us. To fully eliminate anxiety would be to eliminate discernment and self-awareness.
5. Anxiety can help you discover your fullest potential.
Many people who have a form of anxiety are chronic overachievers. Anxiety is often used as a tool to help you push yourself to your limit of achievement. The downside is that there are often negative meanings attached, such as not being good enough or not valuing rest. Often, anxious overachievers have difficulty saying no, trouble completing tasks to their liking or knowing which tasks to prioritize, and issues trusting or working with others.
Using anxiety as a means to “motivate” yourself can only work to a certain extent. Looking at the amount you accomplish even with the negative pressure of anxiety, imagine how much more you could do if you felt focused, calm, and fulfilled by the tasks you accomplish. Anxiety can give you that glimpse into what your body and mind are able to achieve, even under great pressure. You can achieve things with more focus and fulfillment by working with a therapist to let go of the negativity that anxiety can bring.
6. Anxiety provides the energy necessary for taking action.
For many people, anxiety doesn’t inspire over-achievement but instead a perceived inability to take action. Does anxiety ever leave you feeling paralyzed, unable to move forward? The good news is this stress response can work to your benefit.
Does anxiety ever leave you feeling paralyzed, unable to move forward? The good news is this stress response can work to your benefit.
The energy that fuels anxious thoughts and behaviors is giving you what you need to take action and get unstuck. By not taking action, the energy is just getting bottled up inside you with nowhere to go but in circles. A mind spinning in circles or a body that fidgets or panics is stifling the energy of anxiety. Taking action can channel and alleviate that pressure, and the stress response can help you have the energy to do that.
Especially for someone who struggles with depression in addition to anxiety, training the body and mind to take small actions using that energy can provide healing over time—for example, using that energy to take a walk outside or to start a conversation (rather than playing it out repeatedly in your mind).
7. Anxiety can teach you to find balance in life, whatever that may mean for you.
Practicing responding to anxiety in purposeful ways can guide a process of finding balance in every aspect of your life: work and play, social time and personal time, rest and activity, etc. Anxiety gives clues to wherever your world may be out of balance.
Taking charge of your relationship with anxiety may be the most rewarding thing you do for yourself. You can prove to yourself what you are capable of by learning to consciously respond to your anxiety rather than allowing it to control you. This process can help you develop incredible acceptance, confidence, and leadership abilities. Find a therapist to guide and support your efforts and accomplishments.
© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kristine Tye, MA, LMFT, therapist in Sherman Oaks, California
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